Sunday, 13 January 2013

Hazards banner and poster

I've often felt confused by the annoyance or outright contempt that so many working people express towards health and safety legislation. You don't hear the same tone when people talk about the 35-hour working week or overtime pay or the statutory right to paid holidays but it all comes from the same fight for workers' rights. But I guess not everyone has a friend like Mark who enthuses about H&S in the context of Anarcho-syndicalism.

It is often parodied as nothing but common sense for idiots with demonstrations on how to lift a box or where to place of mug of tea on your desk. Stress, overworking and things like repetitive strain injury (super common from incessant use of a mouse) all fall under the scope of H&S. The most powerful part about it is that it's statutory; there is no need to appeal to the boss' sense of morality or justice, which often just doesn't exist.

When Mark asked me to design a poster for a conference being organised by the Bristol Hazards Group, a group of rank and file trade unionist and safety campaigners, I was more than happy to help. This was the result, riso printed by the fantastic Footprint Worker's Coop in Leeds. The image is based on the standard safety sign that indicates the use of explosives. It is also a tongue-in-cheek nod to the history of anarchist direct action.

For the entire 18 months before this request, I and the rest of the UK had been subjected to some really uncomfortable flag waving. The royal wedding, the jubilee and then the olympics. I started to wonder what kind of place I would ever consider waving a flag for. 

At the same time, I was rereading William Morris' utopian novel News from Nowhere and thinking about how that place probably only exists in the imaginations of the people who are fighting for a better world. The word utopia may mean nowhere, but in addition to the visions in our heads, we need symbols to help others visualise its possibility. Mark and I talked about what kind of 'place' the Hazards were trying to create and we came up with 'a place where all workers are free from harm'.

Of course, there is a long tradition of banner making in the trade union movement. There are also incredible artists like Ed Hall who specialise in this type of cultural production. In addition to the traditional sewn/applique method of banner making, I incorporated some embroidery because I really love the way it looks and the texture it creates.

The banner/flag is ready to hang or be carried by two people while marching. It will be proudly carried by members of the Hazards on International Workers' Memorial Day on the 28th of April. I'd hope that people might sneer a bit less about improving health and safety when confronted with all the preventable deaths that still regularly occur in workplaces around the world. 

But just in case the message doesn't get through by peaceful means, the banner can be turned into a costume. The wearer can dress up as the terrifying Health and Safety monster and scare the crap out of moronic Jeremy Clarkson fans.

No comments: